Kearns • The three words have stayed on the whiteboard inside his office since early June.
It has not only become a mantra around the Utah Olympic Oval ever since, but it has served as the daily reminder of what’s around the corner. The story, told to the athletes this summer by former Olympic speedskater and medalist Joey Cheek, was about a Japanese skater who, in the months leading up to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, trained every day in the wardrobe he’d eventually wear at the Games.
His hood was on.
HIs glasses, too.
While others were training more nonchalantly, Cheek explained, the Japanese skater didn’t break character. When Cheek asked him what prompted the approach to training, he told him, “Every day Olympics.”
Morris, the executive director of U.S. Speedskating, tells the story as if it was his. That’s why he wrote the phrase on the whiteboard in his office that overlooks the track in Kearns.
“Bring it every day,” Morris said. “That’s the focus.”
Morris repeats it once more: “Every day Olympics. Show the hunger and desire.”
U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM TRIALS
Long Track Speedskating
When • Tuesday-Sunday
Where • Pettit National Ice Center, Milwaukee, Wis.
Spots up for grabs » The U.S. has qualified spots for eight men and eight women who can fill in long-track speedskating at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. If a skater earns spots in multiple distances, the team will take less than 16 skaters to South Korea.
At the conclusion of this week’s Olympic long-track team trials in Milwaukee, Wisc., U.S. Speedskating will have its crew for Pyeongchang, South Korea, finalized. The U.S. short-track team was cemented at the Oval two weeks ago. Now a mere month out of the 2018 Olympic Games, the program finally has its shot of erasing the nightmares of what transpired four years ago in Sochi, Russia.
For the first time in 30 years, U.S. long-track was shutout of Olympic medals.
In all, U.S. Speedskating boarded the long flight home from Russia with a single medal in hand, a silver in the men’s 5,000-meter relay in short track.
“Incredibly difficult,” Morris said.
There was drama surrounding the speedskating suits in Sochi. Athletes blamed poor performances on the suits they’d never competed in before Russia. They were supposed to give them an edge, but it became a source of contention. Prior to the 2014 Games, the long-track team had accumulated 28 World Cup medals that season.
They were rolling. Then it all splintered apart in Sochi. That lead to an extensive investigation within the governing body of how things spiraled on the world’s stage.
Coaching staffs were replaced. New training techniques implemented. One of the most important takeaways from the review was that World Cup medals are great, but Olympic medals are even shinier. Individual athletes were given long-term plans for peaking at the right moment. Meaning being at their top speed in January and February in an Olympics year — not in the fall somewhere on a World Cup stage.
“We’ve done a good job of incorporating that philosophy and making sure we’re going to peak at the right time and get to be physically-ready, mentally-ready and hopefully, most importantly, healthy,” Morris said, “because that’s such a big part of it, too.”
During the World Cup stop in Kearns in December, long-track contender Joey Mantia finished fourth in the men’s 1,500-meter event. Morris said he hit his goal time. The analytics from the spring said that fourth-place time would have likely earned Mantia a World Cup gold based on the tapering process. Instead, he was fourth.
“You really have to step it up in the Olympic Games and skate super, super fast,” Morris said. “And you don’t know who is going to podium. I think times have shown, it’s not necessarily the guys who are on the podium in December.”
Mantia doesn’t hold back recalling the pain of Sochi.
“[It is] like a crack in the boat,” he explained, “things just slowly start filling up, and before you know, it you’re capsized.”
In the years since, Mantia said the team had no choice but to face its failings, embrace it and find a way to use it in a way to motivate toward Pyeongchang.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Mantia said. “It’s really crappy, it sucks. But at the same time, are you going to dwell on it? No. You’re going to get asked a lot about it, be prepared, but it is what it is. People fail all the time, but it’s all about how you handle yourself after that and you come back stronger.”
The charge into Sochi proved that momentum doesn’t mean much in an Olympics calendar year.
The Americans are hoping that’s the case. The whole point of tapering, planning to hit high-end speed at the right time, to get the muscle memory down for that certain time of year, is upon them. After being shut out of medals at the World Cup stop in Utah last month, Olympian Jonathan Garcia explained how for a moment, he was concerned that he might win the men’s 1,000-meter event. His personal-best finish that day was good enough for seventh overall.
Because, after all, that wasn’t part of the plan.
“I really have to make sure I need to strategically place myself in where I need to be throughout the season,” Garcia said last month, “[and] just put myself in the best position possible for February.”
The headliners remain, for the most part, the same. They’ll compete at the Pettit National Ice Center to determine Olympic spots for the first time in 20 years. The decision to return to Wisconsin is to best replicate what the skaters will face in Pyeongchang — racing at sea level, something the team didn’t so in the trials four years ago, competing in Kearns ahead of Sochi, which was near sea level as well.
World-record holder and World Champions Heather Bergsma highlights the women’s side. Since Sochi, she’s relocated to live and train full-time in the Netherlands. Her husband, Jorrit, is part of the Dutch national team. Bergsma won the 1,000 and 1,500-meter events at last year’s World Championships in Pyeongchang. Brittany Bowe endured nearly 18 months off the ice due to severe post-concussion syndrome, but is inching her way back.
Bowe said recently that she was “grateful to have the opportunity to put my skates on and give my hardest effort every day. I really want to go into this season and skate each race to the best of my ability. Of course I want to win every race and I want to be on top of that Olympic podium, but I’m not going to do that unless I skate within myself.”
Olympic legend Shani Davis, now 35, is pushing for another appearance. Along with Mantia and Garcia are contenders Brian Hansen and Mitch Whitmore.
“Pyeongchang is our chance to redeem ourselves,” Mantia said, “and show really we’re not going to make the same mistakes twice.”
Morris said in the seasons since Sochi, the athletes have bought into the new approach. There is no bickering about haves-and-have-nots, he added. This generation of speedskaters is determined to ensure what transpired in Russia is not part of their lasting Olympic legacy. The post-Olympic review, the organization believes, checked all the boxes and has since given athletes and coaches alike the tools to rise in South Korea.
“I can’t wait for them to leave the Olympics with a big smile on their face and admiration and attention they deserve,” Morris said, “and people talking about them for the right reasons.”
All races are broadcast live on NBCSN
All times Mountain
Today • Women’s 3,000, men’s 5,000, 3:30-5:30 p.m.
Wednesday • Men’s and women’s 1,000, 4-5:30 p.m.
Thursday • Women’s 5,000, men’s 10,000, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
Friday • Men’s and women’s 500, 4:30-6 p.m.
Saturday • Men’s and women’s 1,500, 4-6 p.m.
Sunday • Men’s and women’s mass start, 4-4:30 p.m.